SCIENTISTS in the US have discovered that compounds found in the drug may help to destroy a toxic protein associated with the disease.
By Francesca Frawley
Preliminary research discovered that levels of amyloid beta, the toxin found in the disease, were reduced when exposed to cannabis.
Toxin amyloid beta creates plaque deposits in the brain, which causes cells to be inflamed.
But the study showed that compounds in cannabis, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) helped to reduce inflammation, allowing cells to survive.
This new discovery could lead the fight against the condition, which kills 60,000 people every year.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, and led by by the Salk institute in California earlier this month.
Salk Professor David Schubert said: “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”
Researcher Antonio Currais, writing for paper Aging and Mechanisms of Disease said that the breakthrough shows that it can be used to stop cells dying in the brain.
He said: ”Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves.
“It became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying.”
Cannabis has been used for thousands of years, even as early as 4000 bc in China, but it’s not just taken for recreational use.
Using it for medical purposes is not new, with many using the plant to treat ailments such as glaucoma and even epilepsy.
Patients suffering from multiple sclerosis have been known to self-medicate because it can help to control tremors, pains and bladder dysfunction.
Since 2001, patients in Canada can apply to use the drug for serious diseases such as cancer.
While its effectiveness is disputed, scientists do agree that it can help patients, particularly to ward off nausea in chemotherapy patients.
It has even been used in trials with anorexia sufferers, with the drug said to stimulate appetite.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society told express.co.uk: “Research in laboratory grown cells has shown that the active compounds in cannabis can reduce the toxic proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and could control harmful inflammation.
“However, this effect of has not been rigorously tested in studies involving people and there remains no evidence that cannabis can prevent the development of dementia.
“More research is needed to fully understand the risks and benefits of components of cannabis as a potential treatment for dementia.”